The Dalai Lama on Respecting Our Environment

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In this November 1991 Moyers Moment from Spirit & Nature, which was taped during a conference at Middlebury College, the Dalai Lama talks to Bill and an assembled audience about our shared responsibility to this planet, and his concept of “spiritual democracy.”


DALAI LAMA: Brother and sisters, I think you come here with some expectation, but essentially, I have nothing to offer to you. Simply, I try to share to share some of my own experience and view. You see, taking care of our planet is nothing, nothing special and nothing sacred or noting holy. It is just something like taking care of your own house. We have no other planet, no other house except this, although[there] is a lot of disturbance and a lot- there is a problem there and it is our only, only alternative. We cannot go to other, you see, planet I think of moon, like moon, you see, from distance appears quite beautiful. If you go there, stay there, horrible, I think. So you see, our blue planet is much better, much happier. So therefore, you see, we have to take care about our own, you see, place.

MOYERS: Is there anything in the Buddhist scripture that encourages a way to look at the environment? Is there anything that Buddhism has to say, in particular, today?

DALAI LAMA: Firstly, Buddhist very much respect not only human being, but all, you see, other sentient being.

MOYERS: All sentient beings?

DALAI LAMA: Yes, all sentient beings.

MOYERS: By sentient beings, you mean-

DALAI LAMA: As insect, as birds or animals as things like that. So therefore, through that way is some kind of, I think concern or, you see respect, the natural environment.

MOYERS: Does this mean-

DALAI LAMA: And also-

MOYERS: Excuse me.

DALAI LAMA: Ah, yes, also, where the read, you see, in Buddhist teaching, I think, like many other religion, you see, contentment, self –discipline. That also I think, makes some differences.


DALAI LAMA: Self – discipline.

MOYERS: -discipline?

DALAI LAMA: And contentment. These, I think, and for individual, you see, life, they’re self discipline, contentment, there is something – something important, something useful.

MOYERS: Does this reverence for all living thing mean that I shouldn’t have hit that mosquito that bit me here? No, I’m serious about that. Is there a danger of excess in this? A lot of people say, “Well, you who care about the environment are going to extremes on it.”

DALAI LAMA: Usually my practice, you see, is something like this. One mosquito, you see, one mosquito come. Then if my mood is something quite happy, then I usually give some blood, you see, to the mosquito. Then, You see, Then second time come. Then, more impatience, so sometimes- [slapping motion]

MOYERS: Three strikes and you’re out, as we say.

DALAI LAMA: [lecturing] After all, human beings is a social animal. I often tell, you see, my friend that, you see, no need to study philosophy or these professional, you see complicated subject. Just look, you see. Those innocent animals or insect, like certain, you see ants or like, you see bees. And sometimes I really, you see, develop some kind of respect for them. How? They have no religion, no Constitution, no police force, nothing; but you see, because, you see, because they are nature existence, you see, nature law of existence, you see, you need harmony. You need, you see, sense of responsibility because of nature, so they accept nature. They follow according to nature’s system, I think, nature way. We human being, what is wrong? You see, we have such, you see, intelligence I mean, human intelligence, human wisdom, but I think we often use human intelligence in wrong direction. As a result, in a way, we are against we are doing certain actions which essentially against the basic human nature.

MOYERS: Spiritual democracy – that’s a wonderful term in your own conversation, spiritual democracy. What do you mean by that?

DALAI LAMA: I think, you see, basically the respect others’ right and listen, you see, different ideas. So, you see, in deep sense, you see- in deep down there, if you have, you see, compassion and love human affection, then, you see, naturally develop, you see, the respect to others. Therefore, you see, you will develop not only, you see respect to other, but some kind of essential responsibility. And then, you see, that create, I think, some kind of, I think, the attitude, you see, respect. I mean, listen, you see, others’ view and some kind of, you see, will or desire, you see, to join, to make a common effort.

Watch the entire interview with the Dalai Lama and other environmentalists »

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